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Featured Image: The San Clemente City Council last month voted to establish a pickleball hub at Richard T. Steed Memorial Park, among other measures. Photo: File/Cari Hachmann

By C. Jayden Smith

The growing number of pickleball players in San Clemente will soon see numerous changes locally to the sport, as the City Council voted, 4-1, last month to implement several measures into the upcoming fiscal year budget.

On Dec. 21, councilmembers approved an appropriation to spend $35,000 on noise-reducing windscreens to be placed near the pickleball courts at San Gorgonio Park. They also adjusted the court hours at the park from 7 a.m. to dusk, Monday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. to dusk on Saturdays and Sundays.

Additionally, they directed staff to take decibel readings of the courts in regard to the Shorecliffs neighborhood, and to update the city’s capital improvements (CIP) budget to reflect the changes at San Gorgonio and Richard T. Steed Memorial Park.

Councilmember Laura Ferguson was the lone vote against the motion.

During the City Council meeting, Beaches, Parks and Recreation Department Director Samantha Wylie gave a presentation based on the results of the Beaches and Parks Commission’s Dec. 14 meeting.

There, the commission reviewed the second-draft designs created by SWA, a landscape architect firm that the city had tapped in March to update San Gorgonio, Steed, and other San Clemente parks.

The designs recommended a relocation of the pickleball courts at San Gorgonio to near the freeway wall, to reduce the noise impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

The council-approved plan also stipulates that the current pickleball courts would transition back to tennis, in addition to constructing a large facility at Richard T. Steed Memorial Park that would have 16 courts with lights.

“(The courts at Steed) would be a social hub, an area for pickleball players in the community to gather and provide larger play for the community,” Wylie said.

Four courts were each added to the San Luis Rey and San Gorgonio parks in 2018 under a yearlong pilot program.

Within a few months, the city heard from nearby San Luis Rey residents about the sport’s noise, especially with one court in close proximity to a house. Additionally, people played there during the early parts of the morning and late at night because of the lights that were in place.

City staff determined that San Luis Rey was not a good site for pickleball, and they did not hear any complaints from residents living near San Gorgonio.

“Council then voted to approve a permanent pickleball court setup,” Wylie said. “Four courts were permanent, and (the city added) four dual-lined courts at San Gorgonio.”

Interest in pickleball has boomed during the pandemic, which encouraged the city to pay attention to the needs of players during the process of updating the master plans of San Gorgonio and Steed. (The funding for those improvements will be included in the upcoming city budget.)

Wylie said that the gist of the Parks department’s presentation and report was to mitigate the noise at San Gorgonio.

“It’s called ‘Acoustifencing’; that’s the brand name, but there’s different things out there,” she said, referring to a popular brand of the noise-reducing windscreens. “It dampens the noise by about 50% and reduces the decibels that (are) going outward.”

The screens are made from recycled, synthetic plastic, and are intended to be relocated to wherever future courts will be placed. They’re also thicker than the current, more transparent wind screens.

Following’ Wylie’s presentation, Councilmember Steve Knoblock expressed his concerns with the early-morning noise.

“I went out there to listen, a number of times,” Knoblock said. “If my wife lived in that neighborhood, I’d have a problem on my hands with her, sleep-wise.”

He added that he was on board with the mitigation measures, but still encouraged pickleball play.

Responding to questions that Ferguson had regarding whether other cities used the same system, Wylie said that Carlsbad does employ the same screens that San Clemente would use. She added that staff has heard good things from other entities that use the mitigation screens.

“Again, it doesn’t eliminate the sound, but it certainly dampens it,” she said.

Councilmember Kathy Ward said she was on board, but Mayor Gene James voiced a difference of opinion.

“I’m OK with pickleball being temporarily at San G, but I don’t understand why we wouldn’t move the entire thing to Steed,” James said. Councilmember Chris Duncan agreed.

Ward advised against taking the pickleball courts away from San Gorgonio, saying that every park should have some kind of use for a particular amenity.

“If you walk through the back part of San G, it’s actually quite nice and green, and (it has) rolling hills,” Duncan said. “This would seem to really be out of place. I don’t know why we’d make that big investment for four courts that are so far in the back of the park that they’re even sort of hard to get to.”

Duncan suggested the city move the batting cages at the park to where the pickleball courts would be, which he claimed would help provide better options for seating and sight lines for parents at the softball and baseball fields.

Wylie chimed in to say that the thought process behind putting the courts at San Gorgonio in the location where they will be placed was to give players who do not favor the rotational style at Steed Park the option to play with their own small group for an extended amount of time.

City Manager Erik Sund explained that with the CIP budget, the city normally works on design in the upcoming fiscal year before focusing on construction and implementation the year after. With Steed, because the nearby Glaukos Corporation had expressed interest in funding improvements there, Sund said that staff is looking to accelerate the process of working at that park and thus installing the 16 courts.

Regarding San Gorgonio, the city plans on designing in the 2022-23 fiscal year and begin construction in FY 2023-24, as usual. Sund said adding the four courts there would not take long.

“If you wanted to say, ‘Well, do Steed Park in 2022-23, but also see if you can expedite just four courts at San G and not do all of the other design elements at San G,’ we wouldn’t necessarily recommend that, but I understand under these circumstances why you might be wanting that,” Sund added.

During a lengthy session of public comments, there were two distinct sides of the conversation. Several residents of the Shorecliffs neighborhood and others that frequent San Gorgonio voiced their concerns about the noise that pickleball players make, asking that the city not add the four courts to the park.

Conversely, a group of pickleball players and “ambassadors” were in favor of the plan Wylie had presented.

After the session concluded, Ferguson spoke of her own experiences with the loud noises she heard at the park. She favored an “industrial sports park,” where all the rowdier sports such as pickleball and skateboarding can occur.

“Steed Park, Vista Hermosa Sports Park is where I’d like to see that happen,” Ferguson said.

Her substitute motion to immediately remove the pickleball courts from San Gorgonio and begin construction at Steed Park was not seconded.

C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.

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